[Ferro-Alloys.com] Manganese Metal Company (MMC) in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, the only non-China producer of electrolytic manganese metal, is developing a new facility to diversify its product line of battery-grade manganese.
The company uses ore from manganese mines in the Northern Cape operated by South32 to produce battery-grade manganese that is used (as a replacement for cobalt) to make lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), for example.
Chair Bernard Swanepoel said MMC was “already a supplier of the critical materials needed for the global energy transition”, and was now investing in a brownfields plant at its current site in Mbombela where it will produce high purity, battery-grade manganese sulphate.
At an open day at the plant in Mbombela, MMC chief marketing officer Morne Ruiters said the company produced 3% of the world supply of electrolytic manganese metal, with the balance produced almost exclusively in China. However, MMC is the largest producer of selenium-free electrolytic manganese metal (a purer product than selenium-containing manganese), producing 28,000 tonnes of 99.9% pure electrolytic manganese metal per annum when operating at full capacity.
About 95% of the product, which is used by the steel, battery and welding industries, is exported. Its major markets are Japan (56% of exports), the US (25%) and Europe (10%).
Ruiters said the uptake by battery makers had increased exponentially. He presented data showing electrolytic manganese metal demand from battery makers increased from 8% of total demand in 2015 to 26% in 2023. Meanwhile, demand from the steel industry has decreased from 39% to 30% of demand.
The company is hoping to capitalise on the rise in demand for manganese products for the manufacture of batteries with its 5,000-tonne per year production facility for high-purity manganese sulphate. The new facility will be powered, in large part, by renewable energy to reduce its reliance on Eskom and produce a product with a lower carbon footprint.
MMC hopes to have the plant in full production by 2027 and will investigate the feasibility of a greenfields project to manufacture 30,000 tonnes of manganese sulphate.
MMC head of development Madelein Todd said that as the EV industry moves to include more lower-cost battery materials such as manganese-based products, demand for manganese sulphate will increase.
This creates an opportunity for MMC, as battery and EV makers seek to diversify their supply, which is now dominated by products from China.
Todd said the demand for non-Chinese, fully traceable and ESG-compliant, high-purity manganese sulphate is already increasing. But to produce the product profitably they would have to earn a premium and the risk remains the pricing of the product outside China.
“Price risk is an uncertainty for new non-China supply of manganese sulphate. The only available reference price is for China-produced and China-consumed material,” she said.
“Vehicle makers in Western countries need to know that for us to produce a product that is traceable and has a low carbon footprint — all the things that energy transition needs — will cost more than the prices of existing products in China. We want to be a substantial supplier of manganese sulphate before the end of the decade and we believe the desire of battery and EV makers for full traceability and to diversify their supply away from China will drive a premium price for our product.”